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Commonwealth Picks Indian Diplomat as New Leader


The British Commonwealth has appointed Indian diplomat Kamalesh Sharmar as its new secretary-general. The appointment was made at the Commonwealth summit currently underway in Uganda. Malcolm Webb reports for VOA from Kampala.

Sharmar was unanimously elected by the 53 member states of the Commonwealth on the second day of their heads of government meeting in the Ugandan capital Kampala

Sharmar, the Indian High Commissioner to London, will be the organization's first Asian secretary-general. He was chosen over Maltese Foreign Minister Michael Frendo and will take over April 1 from the current secretary-general, New Zealand's Don Mckinnon.

At a news conference following his appointment, Sharmar said the Commonwealth is a global good, and he will take on the position with enthusiasm and confidence. He spoke about the benefits the Commonwealth can bring to its smaller and poorer members, such as the Caribbean Island countries.

"We should try and see where we can further assist aid for trade," said Shamar. "We have talked about, for instance, how can we do trade facilitation, how can we give help so that small states have exportable goods."

"I am very particular in emphasizing on the area of services, because services is now a globally burgeoning industry. I think the 21st century is going to be a much trading century in services, if not more than in goods," he added.

International development consultant Peter Robbins has worked in several Commonwealth countries, advising governments on economic and trade policy. Speaking by phone from London, he said the British Commonwealth lacks the influence and ability it once had to support the development of its member countries.

"Theoretically the Commonwealth could be a very important institution because it has got very wealthy countries within it, like Britain, and the newly emerging countries like India, as well as poor countries," said Robbins. "Really they could be a very useful self-help group of countries, but in fact their various trade advantages that once were there have really become subservient to the World Trade organization rules."

As well as electing a new leader, Commonwealth leaders Saturday issued a statement on climate change. The new secretary-general had said he expected Commonwealth leaders to agree on a strong statement, but the statement contained only vague language and did not suggest a move towards binding international agreements.

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